Last October, Danny Sheridan and Rishi Prasad were both waiting to buy lunch at the University of Michigan. The Ross School of Business undergraduate students were waiting to buy their lunches when Sheridan noticed Prasad’s MoneyLion t-shirt. Sheridan knew the company well. He had spent the previous summer interning at the venture capital-backed financial technology startup founded in 2013. With a common interest established, the two made plans to snag coffee together soon.
When Sheridan and Prasad reconnected a week later for the coffee, the two hit it off immediately discussing the idea of creating an action-based learning method for cryptocurrency and blockchain technology education. The idea would in turn lead to the founding of Wolverine Crypto Trading, a totally student-led and funded cryptocurrency trading club.
“Wolverine Crypto Trading stemmed from an itch to learn about the blockchain and cryptocurrency space,” Sheridan, a senior majoring in management at the Ross School and president of Wolverine Crypto Trading tells Poets&Quants. “There is too much for one person to learn alone. Thus, Rishi and I put together a team of multi-discipline students to learn through discussion.”
While at first slow to catch on, cryptocurrencies have been gaining steam at business schools across the country. Schools like Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, New York University’s Stern School of Business, and Stanford University, among many others, are beginning to catch up, offering specific courses in bitcoin, blockchain, and other cryptocurrencies. Still, as proven recently, cryptocurrency remains a risky, Wild West-like market with hacks, heists, and significant volatility.
HAVING ‘COCKROACH’ STYLE PERSONALITIES
That said, both Sheridan and Prasad are no strangers to launching organizations — and the unpredictability that can often come with entrepreneurship. As a high schooler, Sheridan founded Woodside Distributors, an e-commerce business that serves as a third-party seller on Amazon Marketplace. Before graduating from high school, Sheridan says, the now seven-year-old venture had generated $2 million in revenue. According to the company’s website, it has had six straight years of profitability. Meanwhile, Prasad, a sophomore at the Ross School has already founded Michigan FinTech, the first student-led fintech initiative at the university, launched last September.
The 500-strong group works to connect students with interest in the world of financial technology to innovators and thought leaders in the field through events, workshops, and possible job opportunities. The Michigan FinTech team also upkeeps a blog and works closely with corporate partners such as Coinbase, Clinc AI, and MoneyLion to educate their members and provide networking access. In launching and establishing Wolverine Crypto Trading, the two have fed off one another’s entrepreneurial zest.
“When you get across from someone as motivated and hustle-oriented as Rishi, you know you want to be on the same team,” Sheridan says. “Venture capitalists are often caught asking accelerators and incubators for ‘cockroach’ style personalities where they just won’t die as perseverance is ingrained in their DNA.”
EACH STUDENT TEAM MEMBER GETS $1,000 TO MANAGE AND TRADE
With the plan to launch a cryptocurrency-focused club at Michigan in place, the two decided it wouldn’t be enough to sit around and discuss cryptocurrencies or merely travel to blockchain and bitcoin conferences — the club would need to actually manage and trade cryptocurrencies. So the two decided to do just that by creating a hands-on fund for team members. But rather than waiting to seek out investors, Sheridan decided to provide the capital funds himself. Now, each member of the club gets $1,000 to trade in the cryptocurrency markets.
“Move fast, be creative, and don’t be afraid to try something out of the ordinary. This was — and remains to be — our approach,” Prasad, who is serving as vice-president, says. “I am probably most proud of the speed in which we’ve seen WCT develop.”
Indeed, the two have moved rapidly. Two weeks after the team created a website and logo, they began spreading the word about their idea and organized an informational event for other students. They were looking for curious, motivated students, who were fast-learners and received over 100 applications from all sorts of majors on campus.
TEAM NOW UP TO 20 MEMBERS, RANGING FROM FRESHMEN TO SENIORS
With only up to 12 original spots available, Sheridan and Prasad interviewed about a third of the applicants in-person, and offers were extended. Then, in October, the team met for the first time over pizza and drinks. Coming from various majors ranging from computer science and business administration to industrial and operations engineering, Sheridan and Prasad also plucked students from different races and backgrounds, with the intent to strengthen the cultural wisdom of the group in their trading discussions and learning. Indeed, the team of now 20 members range from freshmen to seniors and span majors, however only two members are women.
Today, the team not only meets once a week to share information and discuss industry trends and growth, they also hold town hall-like meetings to educate their peers about cryptocurrency and blockchain. They also continue to brainstorm and pursue new projects and innovations. For instance, the team is currently working on what they call Algo-bot, an automatic robot that trades on its own using set indicators as knowledge. Also in project-mode is a tool called sentiment mapping, which measures public emotions towards cryptocurrencies by aggregating information from social media sites such as Twitter and Reddit.
The club has also served as a potential job-linking network.
“We have many students in conversations with firms as well as firm commitments,” Sheridan says. “From a product manager at Facebook… to McKinsey as an analyst, most of the team is interested in entering a career focused on emerging technology.”
‘THE DEMAND FROM OUR STUDENTS IS JUST TOO LARGE TO IGNORE’
Team members are also extending networks beyond University of Michigan walls, regularly attending cryptocurrency events throughout the country. Those traveling and attending are expected to report back what they learn and blog about the experience. A few months after establishing the group, members have already traveled from Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus to major conferences including Blockcon 2017 in Santa Monica, California, the North American Bitcoin Conference in Miami, and Blockchain Connect 2018 in San Francisco.
In a blog post written by Benjamin Oostendorp, a Computer Science undergraduate who will graduate in 2021, he mentions that in his first semester with the Wolverine team, he learned about the importance of having a community of “crypto lovers” to learn from in real-life discussion. He states that making money in cryptocurrency is not easier or harder than working in stocks, and that because many traders in the cryptocurrency world are newcomers like himself, large influxes of money makes it difficult to experience a loss, possibly misleading some to believe that their successes are due to their capabilities.
“A beginner can come into crypto and learn the fundamentals of trading, while still making money,” Oostendorp writes. He goes on to warn others: “Do your research. Cryptocurrency is no different than any other investment…Don’t solely trade based off of Twitter or Reddit…don’t trade solely off of hype. It’s not that easy.”
But it’s tough not to ignore the buzz around the club and industry, Prasad says.
“We’ve received interest from alumni and other student-led fintech initiatives to join forces and re-shape the way students interact with new technologies,” he explains. “We’re excited to form stronger relationships with our alumni and students across the globe engaged in discussion around financial innovation and disruption… the demand from our students is just too large to ignore.”